After 24 years at the Malta Tourism Authority, Chief Marketing Officer Carlo Micallef is an eyewitness to the evolution of the island’s tourism sector. He shares with Laura Bonnici how much has changed during his tenure – and what the future might hold for tourism in Malta.
Travel back in time to 1997, and a visit to Malta
would look quite different to the Mediterranean
destination we know today.
Then, the National Tourism Organisation Malta
– destined to later become the Malta Tourism
Authority – curated your island adventure.
It was that same year Carlo Micallef joined the
organisation, starting a journey that would help
transform the tourist experience into one that
still attracts millions of travellers.
“That was a long time ago,” he smiles.
“There have been many changes since in the
organisation and the industry. At that time, the
national airlines and tour operators generally
controlled tourism, and it wasn’t very diversified.
Around half of all visiting tourists were from the
UK, followed mostly by those from Germany
and France. When I started as a marketing
executive, my first assignment was to open our
activity to the emerging Russian market. No
one wanted to do it, so it was given to the new
As well as Russia, Mr Micallef soon took on the
UK and Ireland desk, meeting travel agents and
journalists visiting Malta from both increasingly
busy and demanding markets. With this valuable
learning experience, he went on to head
the hospitality division, hosting key visitors
arriving on pre-planned programmes. Further
promotions quickly followed, including a threeyear
assignment in Amsterdam to oversee the
Scandinavian market, with frequent trips to the
Authority’s satellite Belgium and Stockholm
“The experience opened my eyes
to a world beyond Malta,” he shares. “When
I returned to the island, I led a segment for
business development and emerging markets,
which allowed us to expand our reach beyond
Europe and diversify our source markets – and
welcome more visitors through the traditional
‘leaner’ months of Malta’s tourism year.”
Today, as Deputy CEO and Chief Marketing Officer at the Malta Tourism Authority, Mr
Micallef now uses his local and international
expertise, garnered over nearly a quarter
of a century in the industry, to assist in the
Authority’s mission to promote Malta as a go-to
“We have created a bespoke marketing
approach for each country, which spotlights
Malta to targeted audiences and gives the
best operation for our overseas partners. We
have seen sustained growth in tourist numbers
visiting Malta, especially from 2014 until 2019 –
and, of course, we all know what happened in
Indeed, with the many challenges of the
COVID-19 pandemic – particularly regarding
international travel – 2020 was a difficult year
for global tourism.
“In the first weeks of the pandemic, few
imagined it would hit the world so hard, or last
so long,” Mr Micallef recalls. “As the situation
evolved, we made sure to keep going by
creating online activities to stay engaged with
Quickly pivoting their marketing approach, Mr
Micallef describes how his team took to the
digital space to offer positivity, stay visible and
boost engagement via social media through the
Dream Malta Now… Visit Later campaign.
“We wanted to find ways to keep Malta’s unique culture, traditions and history at the forefront of people’s minds, at a time when they
couldn’t experience it in person,” he says. “As well as making videos of Maltese chefs sharing local recipes, we teamed with Heritage Malta to showcase our attractions and artefacts digitally, and offered online games for families. We even offered a free short course in the Maltese language and its origin, so that people can order in Maltese when they return!”
Having ridden a succession of COVID-19 waves since March 2020, Mr Micallef now hopes for a revitalised local tourism industry – with an eye towards consistency and safety. “Malta’s high vaccination rate and stricter protocols are reassuring for travellers who are only just considering international trips again,” he says. “People are still adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude, booking their trips within a week or so of their travel date. The country has managed the pandemic well, so now we must avoid relapse by remaining patient and consistent, as restrictions are gradually relaxed. If there aren’t any new variants or spikes, then the positive trend we’ve experienced over summer should continue into winter.”
As well as a more sustainable approach, Mr Micallef also joins the drive towards better quality. “We have used the opportunity to boost quality at every level, from the taxi driver at the airport to hotel staff. Investment by the Government, MTA and various other entities will help elevate everyone and everything across the industry, offering better value for money overall,” he explains, sharing that this investment also extends to addressing the staff shortage now affecting both tourism and hospitality industries.
Updated regulation for the accommodation sector is also on Mr Micallef’s radar, with a new law in progress following extensive consultation. “We have recently launched the Forbes project, whereby a ‘mystery shopper’ for the travel industry will visit the country at an unknown time, booking hotels and restaurants and so on, and then offering us feedback on their experience. Their evaluation will help us solidify all the positive changes we have made and reward the incredible resilience of everyone in the industry,” he concludes. “Tourism is fragile, but it recovers quickly and remains an important pillar of Malta’s economy for 40 years or more. Let’s keep working together for the return of a better, stronger, higher quality tourism sector.”